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QakNote Infections: A Network-Based Exploration of Varied Attack Paths

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05
Apr 2023
05
Apr 2023
At the end of January 2023, threat actors began to abuse OneNote email attachments to deliver Qakbot onto users' devices. Widespread adoption of this novel delivery method resulted in a surge in Qakbot infections across Darktrace's customer base between the end of January 2023 and the end of February 2023. In this blog, we will provide details of these so-called 'QakNote' infections, along with details of Darktrace's coverage of the steps involved in them.

In an ever-changing threat landscape, security vendors around the world are forced to quickly adapt, react, and respond to known attack vectors and threats. In the face of this, malicious actors are constantly looking for novel ways to gain access to networks. Whether that’s through new exploitations of network vulnerabilities or new delivery methods, attackers and their methods are continually evolving. Although it is valuable for organizations to leverage threat intelligence to keep abreast of known threats to their networks, intelligence alone is not enough to defend against increasingly versatile attackers. Having an autonomous decision maker able to detect and respond to emerging threats, even those employing novel or unknown techniques, is paramount to defend against network compromise.

At the end of January 2023, threat actors began to abuse OneNote attachments to deliver the malware strain, Qakbot, onto users' devices. Widespread adoption of this novel delivery method resulted in a surge in Qakbot infections across Darktrace's customer base between the end of January 2023 and the end of February 2023. Using its Self-Learning AI, Darktrace was able to uncover and respond to these so-called ‘QakNote’ infections as the new trend emerged. Darktrace detected and responded to the threat at multiple stages of the kill chain, preventing damaging and widespread compromise to customer networks.

Qakbot and The Recent Weaponization of OneNote

Qakbot first appeared in 2007 as a banking trojan designed to steal sensitive data such as banking credentials. Since then, Qakbot has evolved into a highly modular, multi-purpose tool, with backdoor, payload delivery, reconnaissance, lateral movement, and data exfiltration capabilities. Although Qakbot's primary delivery method has always been email-based, threat actors have been known to modify their email-based delivery methods of Qakbot in the face of changing circumstances. In the first half of 2022, Microsoft started rolling out versions of Office which block XL4 and VBA macros by default [1]/[2]/[3]. Prior to this change, Qakbot email campaigns typically consisted in the spreading of deceitful emails with Office attachments containing malicious macros. In the face of Microsoft's default blocking of macros, threat actors appeared to cease delivering Qakbot via Office attachments, and shifted to primarily using HTML attachments, through a method known as 'HTML smuggling' [4]/[5]. After the public disclosure [6] of the Follina vulnerability (CVE-2022-30190) in Microsoft Support Diagnostic Tool (MSDT) in May 2022, Qakbot actors were seen capitalizing on the vulnerability to facilitate their email-based delivery of Qakbot payloads [7]/[8]/[9]. 

Given the inclination of Qakbot actors to adapt their email-based delivery methods, it is no surprise that they were quick to capitalize on the novel OneNote-based delivery method which emerged in December 2022. Since December 2022, threat actors have been seen using OneNote attachments to deliver a variety of malware strains, ranging from Formbook [10] to AsynRAT [11] to Emotet [12]. The abuse of OneNote documents to deliver malware is made possible by the fact that OneNote allows for the embedding of executable file types such as HTA files, CMD files, and BAT files. At the end of January 2023, actors started to leverage OneNote attachments to deliver Qakbot [13]/[14]. The adoption of this novel delivery method by Qakbot actors resulted in a surge in Qakbot infections in the wider threat landscape and across the Darktrace customer base.

Observed Activity Chains

Between January 31 and February 24, 2023, Darktrace observed variations of the following pattern of activity across its customer base:

1. User's device contacts OneNote-related endpoint 

2. User's device makes an external GET request with an empty Host header, a target URI whose final segment consists in 5 or 6 digits followed by '.dat', and a User-Agent header referencing either cURL or PowerShell. The GET request is responded to with a DLL file

3. User's device makes SSL connections over ports 443 and 2222 to unusual external endpoints, and makes TCP connections over port 65400 to 23.111.114[.]52

4. User's device makes SSL connections over port 443 to an external host named 'bonsars[.]com' (IP: 194.165.16[.]56) and TCP connections over port 443 to 78.31.67[.]7

5. User’s device makes call to Endpoint Mapper service on internal systems and then connects to the Service Control Manager (SCM) 

6. User's device uploads files with algorithmically generated names and ‘.dll’ or ‘.dll.cfg’ file extensions to SMB shares on internal systems

7. User's device makes Service Control requests to the systems to which it uploaded ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ files 

Further investigation of these chains of activity revealed that they were parts of Qakbot infections initiated via interactions with malicious OneNote attachments. 

Figure 1: Steps of observed QakNote infections.

Delivery Phase

Users' interactions with malicious OneNote attachments, which were evidenced by devices' HTTPS connections to OneNote-related endpoints, such as 'www.onenote[.]com', 'contentsync.onenote[.]com', and 'learningtools.onenote[.]com', resulted in the retrieval of Qakbot DLLs from unusual, external endpoints. In some cases, the user's interaction with the malicious OneNote attachment caused their device to fetch a Qakbot DLL using cURL, whereas, in other cases, it caused their device to download a Qakbot DLL using PowerShell. These different outcomes reflected variations in the contents of the executable files embedded within the weaponized OneNote attachments. In addition to having cURL and PowerShell User-Agent headers, the HTTP requests triggered by interaction with these OneNote attachments had other distinctive features, such as empty host headers and target URIs whose last segment consists in 5 or 6 digits followed by '.dat'. 

Figure 2: Model breach highlighting a user’s device making a HTTP GET request to 198.44.140[.]78 with a PowerShell User-Agent header and the target URI ‘/210/184/187737.dat’.
Figure 3: Model breach highlighting a user’s device making a HTTP GET request to 103.214.71[.]45 with a cURL User-Agent header and the target URI ‘/70802.dat’.
Figure 4: Event Log showing a user’s device making a GET request with a cURL User-Agent header to 185.231.205[.]246 after making an SSL connection to contentsync.onenote[.]com.
Figure 5: Event Log showing a user’s device making a GET request with a cURL User-Agent header to 185.231.205[.]246 after making an SSL connection to www.onenote[.]com.

Command and Control Phase

After fetching Qakbot DLLs, users’ devices were observed making numerous SSL connections over ports 443 and 2222 to highly unusual, external endpoints, as well as large volumes of TCP connections over port 65400 to 23.111.114[.]52. These connections represented Qakbot-infected devices communicating with command and control (C2) infrastructure. Qakbot-infected devices were also seen making intermittent connections to legitimate endpoints, such as 'xfinity[.]com', 'yahoo[.]com', 'verisign[.]com', 'oracle[.]com', and 'broadcom[.]com', likely due to Qakbot making connectivity checks. 

Figure 6: Event Log showing a user’s device contacting Qakbot C2 infrastructure and making connectivity checks to legitimate domains.
Figure 7: Event Log showing a user’s device contacting Qakbot C2 infrastructure and making connectivity checks to legitimate domains.

Cobalt Strike and VNC Phase

After Qakbot-infected devices established communication with C2 servers, they were observed making SSL connections to the external endpoint, bonsars[.]com, and TCP connections to the external endpoint, 78.31.67[.]7. The SSL connections to bonsars[.]com were C2 connections from Cobalt Strike Beacon, and the TCP connections to 78.31.67[.]7 were C2 connections from Qakbot’s Virtual Network Computing (VNC) module [15]/[16]. The occurrence of these connections indicate that actors leveraged Qakbot infections to drop Cobalt Strike Beacon along with a VNC payload onto infected systems. The deployment of Cobalt Strike and VNC likely provided actors with ‘hands-on-keyboard’ access to the Qakbot-infected systems. 

Figure 8: Advanced Search logs showing a user’s device contacting OneNote endpoints, fetching a Qakbot DLL over HTTP, making SSL connections to Qakbot infrastructure and connectivity checks to legitimate domains, and then making SSL connections to the Cobalt Strike endpoint, bonsars[.]com.
Figure 9: Event Log showing a user’s device contacting the Cobalt Strike C2 endpoint, bonsars[.]com, and the VNC C2 endpoint, 78.31.67[.]7, whilst simultaneously contacting the Qakbot C2 endpoint, 47.32.78[.]150.

Lateral Movement Phase

After dropping Cobalt Strike Beacon and a VNC module onto Qakbot-infected systems, actors leveraged their strengthened foothold to connect to the Service Control Manager (SCM) on internal systems in preparation for lateral movement. Before connecting to the SCM, infected systems were seen making calls to the Endpoint Mapper service, likely to identify exposed Microsoft Remote Procedure Call (MSRPC) services on internal systems. The MSRPC service, Service Control Manager (SCM), is known to be abused by Cobalt Strike to create and start services on remote systems. Connections to this service were evidenced by OpenSCManager2  (Opnum: 0x40) and OpenSCManagerW (Opnum: 0xf) calls to the svcctl RPC interface. 

Figure 10: Advanced Search logs showing a user’s device contacting the Endpoint Mapper and Service Control Manager (SCM) services on internal systems. 

After connecting to the SCM on internal systems, infected devices were seen using SMB to distribute files with ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ extensions to SMB shares. These uploads were followed by CreateWowService (Opnum: 0x3c) calls to the svcctl interface, likely intended to execute the uploaded payloads. The naming conventions of the uploaded files indicate that they were Qakbot payloads. 

Figure 11: Advanced Search logs showing a user’s device making Service Control DCE-RPC requests to internal systems after uploading ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ files to them over SMB.

Fortunately, none of the observed QakNote infections escalated further than this. If these infections had escalated, it is likely that they would have resulted in the widespread detonation of additional malicious payloads, such as ransomware.  

Darktrace Coverage of QakNote Activity

Figure 1 shows the steps involved in the QakNote infections observed across Darktrace’s customer base. How far attackers got along this chain was in part determined by the following three factors:

The presence of Darktrace/Email typically stopped QakNote infections from moving past the initial infection stage. The presence of RESPOND/Network significantly slowed down observed activity chains, however, infections left unattended and not mitigated by the security teams were able to progress further along the attack chain. 

Darktrace observed varying properties in the QakNote emails detected across the customer base. OneNote attachments were typically detected as either ‘application/octet-stream’ files or as ‘application/x-tar’ files. In some cases, the weaponized OneNote attachment embedded a malicious file, whereas in other cases, the OneNote file embedded a malicious link (typically a ‘.png’ or ‘.gif’ link) instead. In all cases Darktrace observed, QakNote emails used subject lines starting with ‘RE’ or ‘FW’ to manipulating their recipients into thinking that such emails were part of an existing email chain/thread. In some cases, emails impersonated users known to their recipients by including the names of such users in their header-from personal names. In many cases, QakNote emails appear to have originated from likely hijacked email accounts. These are highly successful methods of social engineering often employed by threat actors to exploit a user’s trust in known contacts or services, convincing them to open malicious emails and making it harder for security tools to detect.

The fact that observed QakNote emails used the fake-reply method, were sent from unknown email accounts, and contained attachments with unusual MIME types, caused such emails to breach the following Darktrace/Email models:

  • Association / Unknown Sender
  • Attachment / Unknown File
  • Attachment / Unsolicited Attachment
  • Attachment / Highly Unusual Mime
  • Attachment / Unsolicited Anomalous Mime
  • Attachment / Unusual Mime for Organisation
  • Unusual / Fake Reply
  • Unusual / Unusual Header TLD
  • Unusual / Fake Reply + Unknown Sender
  • Unusual / Unusual Connection from Unknown
  • Unusual / Off Topic

QakNote emails impersonating known users also breached the following DETECT & RESPOND/Email models:

  • Unusual / Unrelated Personal Name Address
  • Spoof / Basic Known Entity Similarities
  • Spoof / Internal User Similarities
  • Spoof / External User Similarities
  • Spoof / Internal User Similarities + Unrelated Personal Name Address
  • Spoof / External User Similarities + Unrelated Personal Name Address
  • Spoof / Internal User Similarities + Unknown File
  • Spoof / External User Similarities + Fake Reply
  • Spoof / Possible User Spoof from New Address - Enhanced Internal Similarities
  • Spoof / Whale

The actions taken by Darktrace on the observed emails is ultimately determined by Darktrace/Email models are breached. Those emails which did not breach Spoofing models (due to lack of impersonation indicators) received the ‘Convert Attachment’ action. This action converts suspicious attachments into neutralized PDFs, in this case successfully unweaponizing the malicious OneNote attachments. QakNote emails which did breach Spoofing models (due to the presence of impersonation indicators) received the strongest possible action, ‘Hold Message’. This action prevents suspicious emails from reaching the recipients’ mailbox. 

Figure 12: Email log showing a malicious OneNote email (without impersonation indicators) which received a 87% anomaly score, a ‘Move to junk’ action, and a ‘Convert attachment’ actions from Darktrace/Email.
Figure 13: Email log showing a malicious OneNote email (with impersonation indicators) which received an anomaly score of 100% and a ‘Hold message’ action from Darktrace/Email.
Figure 14: Email log showing a malicious OneNote email (with impersonation indicators) which received an anomaly score of 100% and a ‘Hold message’ action from Darktrace/Email.

If threat actors managed to get past the first stage of the QakNote kill chain, likely due to the absence of appropriate email security tools, the execution of the subsequent steps resulted in strong intervention from Darktrace/Network. 

Interactions with malicious OneNote attachments caused their devices to fetch a Qakbot DLL from a remote server via HTTP GET requests with an empty Host header and either a cURL or PowerShell User-Agent header. These unusual HTTP behaviors caused the following Darktrace/Network models to breach:

  • Device / New User Agent
  • Device / New PowerShell User Agent
  • Device / New User Agent and New IP
  • Anomalous Connection / New User Agent to IP Without Hostname
  • Anomalous Connection / Powershell to Rare External
  • Anomalous File / Numeric File Download
  • Anomalous File / EXE from Rare External Location
  • Anomalous File / New User Agent Followed By Numeric File Download

For customers with RESPOND/Network active, these breaches resulted in the following autonomous actions:

  • Enforce group pattern of life for 30 minutes
  • Enforce group pattern of life for 2 hours
  • Block connections to relevant external endpoints over relevant ports for 2 hours   
  • Block all outgoing traffic for 10 minutes
Figure 15: Event Log showing a user’s device receiving Darktrace RESPOND/Network actions after downloading a Qakbot DLL. 
Figure 16: Event Log showing a user’s device receiving Darktrace RESPOND/Network actions after downloading a Qakbot DLL.

Successful, uninterrupted downloads of Qakbot DLLs resulted in connections to Qakbot C2 servers, and subsequently to Cobalt Strike and VNC C2 connections. These C2 activities resulted in breaches of the following DETECT/Network models:

  • Compromise / Suspicious TLS Beaconing To Rare External
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Successful Connections
  • Compromise / Large Number of Suspicious Failed Connections
  • Compromise / Sustained SSL or HTTP Increase
  • Compromise / Sustained TCP Beaconing Activity To Rare Endpoint
  • Compromise / Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Compromise / Slow Beaconing Activity To External Rare
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Connections to New External TCP Port
  • Anomalous Connection / Multiple Failed Connections to Rare Endpoint
  • Device / Initial Breach Chain Compromise

For customers with RESPOND/Network active, these breaches caused RESPOND to autonomously perform the following actions:

  • Block connections to relevant external endpoints over relevant ports for 1 hour
Figure 17: Event Log showing a user’s device receiving RESPOND/Network actions after contacting the Qakbot C2 endpoint,  Cobalt Strike C2 endpoint, bonsars[.]com.

In cases where C2 connections were allowed to continue, actors attempted to move laterally through usage of SMB and Service Control Manager. This lateral movement activity caused the following DETECT/Network models to breach:

  • Device / Possible SMB/NTLM Reconnaissance
  • Anomalous Connection / New or Uncommon Service Control 

For customers with RESPOND/Network enabled, these breaches caused RESPOND to autonomously perform the following actions:

  • Block connections to relevant internal endpoints over port 445 for 1 hour
Figure 18: Event Log shows a user’s device receiving RESPOND/Network actions after contacting the Qakbot C2 endpoint, 5.75.205[.]43, and distributing ‘.dll’ and ‘.dll.cfg’ files internally.

The QakNote infections observed across Darktrace’s customer base involved several steps, each of which elicited alerts and autonomous preventative actions from Darktrace. By autonomously investigating the alerts from DETECT, Darktrace’s Cyber AI Analyst was able to connect the distinct steps of observed QakNote infections into single incidents. It then produced incident logs to present in-depth details of the activity it uncovered, provide full visibility for customer security teams.

Figure 19: AI Analyst incident entry showing the steps of a QakNote infection which AI Analyst connected following its autonomous investigations.

Schlussfolgerung

Faced with the emerging threat of QakNote infections, Darktrace demonstrated its ability to autonomously detect and respond to arising threats in a constantly evolving threat landscape. The attack chains which Darktrace observed across its customer base involved the delivery of Qakbot via malicious OneNote attachments, the usage of ports 65400 and 2222 for Qakbot C2 communication, the usage of Cobalt Strike Beacon and VNC for ‘hands-on-keyboard’ activity, and the usage of SMB and Service Control Manager for lateral movement. 

Despite the novelty of the OneNote-based delivery method, Darktrace was able to identify QakNote infections across its customer base at various stages of the kill chain, using its autonomous anomaly-based detection to identify unusual activity or deviations from expected behavior. When active, Darktrace/Email neutralized malicious QakNote attachments sent to employees. In cases where Darktrace/Email was not active, Darktrace/Network detected and slowed down the unusual network activities which inevitably ensued from Qakbot infections. Ultimately, this intervention from Darktrace’s products prevented infections from leading to further harmful activity, such as data exfiltration and the detonation of ransomware.

Darktrace is able to offer customers an unparalleled level of network security by combining both Darktrace/Network and Darktrace/Email, safeguarding both their email and network environments. With its suite of products, including DETECT and RESPOND, Darktrace can autonomously uncover threats to customer networks and instantaneously intervene to prevent suspicious activity leading to damaging compromises. 

Appendices

MITRE ATT&CK Mapping 

Initial Access:

T1566.001 – Phishing: Spearphishing Attachment

Execution:

T1204.001 – User Execution: Malicious Link

T1204.002 – User Execution: Malicious File

T1569.002 – System Services: Service Execution

Lateral Movement:

T1021.002 – Remote Services: SMB/Windows Admin Shares

Command and Control:

T1573.002 – Encrypted Channel : Asymmetric Cryptography

T1571 – Non-Standard Port 

T1105 – Ingress Tool Transfer

T1095 –  Non-Application Layer Protocol

T1219 – Remote Access Software

List of IOCs

IP Addresses and/or Domain Names:

- 103.214.71[.]45 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 141.164.35[.]94 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 95.179.215[.]225 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 128.254.207[.]55 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 141.164.35[.]94 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 172.96.137[.]149 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 185.231.205[.]246 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 216.128.146[.]67 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 45.155.37[.]170 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 85.239.41[.]55 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 45.67.35[.]108 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 77.83.199[.]12 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 45.77.63[.]210 - Qakbot download infrastructure 

- 198.44.140[.]78 - Qakbot download infrastructure

- 47.32.78[.]150 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 197.204.13[.]52 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 68.108.122[.]180 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 2.50.48[.]213 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 66.180.227[.]60 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 190.206.75[.]58 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 109.150.179[.]236 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 86.202.48[.]142 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 143.159.167[.]159 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 5.75.205[.]43 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 184.176.35[.]223 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure 

- 208.187.122[.]74 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- 23.111.114[.]52 - Qakbot C2 infrastructure 

- 74.12.134[.]53 – Qakbot C2 infrastructure

- bonsars[.]com • 194.165.16[.]56 - Cobalt Strike C2 infrastructure 

- 78.31.67[.]7 - VNC C2 infrastructure

Target URIs of GET Requests for Qakbot DLLs:

- /70802.dat 

- /51881.dat

- /12427.dat

- /70136.dat

- /35768.dat

- /41981.dat

- /30622.dat

- /72286.dat

- /46557.dat

- /33006.dat

- /300332.dat

- /703558.dat

- /760433.dat

- /210/184/187737.dat

- /469/387/553748.dat

- /282/535806.dat

User-Agent Headers of GET Requests for Qakbot DLLs:

- curl/7.83.1

- curl/7.55.1

- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT; Windows NT 10.0; en-US) WindowsPowerShell/5.1.19041.2364

- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT; Windows NT 10.0; en-US) WindowsPowerShell/5.1.17763.3770

- Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT; Windows NT 10.0; en-GB) WindowsPowerShell/5.1.19041.2364

SHA256 Hashes of Downloaded Qakbot DLLs:  

- 83e9bdce1276d2701ff23b1b3ac7d61afc97937d6392ed6b648b4929dd4b1452

- ca95a5dcd0194e9189b1451fa444f106cbabef3558424d9935262368dba5f2c6 

- fa067ff1116b4c8611eae9ed4d59a19d904a8d3c530b866c680a7efeca83eb3d

- e6853589e42e1ab74548b5445b90a5a21ff0d7f8f4a23730cffe285e2d074d9e

- d864d93b8fd4c5e7fb136224460c7b98f99369fc9418bae57de466d419abeaf6

- c103c24ccb1ff18cd5763a3bb757ea2779a175a045e96acbb8d4c19cc7d84bea

Names of Internally Distributed Qakbot DLLs: 

- rpwpmgycyzghm.dll

- rpwpmgycyzghm.dll.cfg

- guapnluunsub.dll

- guapnluunsub.dll.cfg

- rskgvwfaqxzz.dll

- rskgvwfaqxzz.dll.cfg

- hkfjhcwukhsy.dll

- hkfjhcwukhsy.dll.cfg

- uqailliqbplm.dll

- uqailliqbplm.dll.cfg

- ghmaorgvuzfos.dll

- ghmaorgvuzfos.dll.cfg

Links Found Within Neutralized QakNote Email Attachments:

- hxxps://khatriassociates[.]com/MBt/3.gif

- hxxps://spincotech[.]com/8CoBExd/3.gif

- hxxps://minaato[.]com/tWZVw/3.gif

- hxxps://famille2point0[.]com/oghHO/01.png

- hxxps://sahifatinews[.]com/jZbaw/01.png

- hxxp://87.236.146[.]112/62778.dat

- hxxp://87.236.146[.]112/59076.dat

- hxxp://185.231.205[.]246/73342.dat

References

[1] https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/excel-blog/excel-4-0-xlm-macros-now-restricted-by-default-for-customer/ba-p/3057905

[2] https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-365-blog/helping-users-stay-safe-blocking-internet-macros-by-default-in/ba-p/3071805

[3] https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/deployoffice/security/internet-macros-blocked

[4] https://www.cyfirma.com/outofband/html-smuggling-a-stealthier-approach-to-deliver-malware/

[5] https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/spiderlabs-blog/html-smuggling-the-hidden-threat-in-your-inbox/

[6] https://twitter.com/nao_sec/status/1530196847679401984

[7] https://www.fortiguard.com/threat-signal-report/4616/qakbot-delivered-through-cve-2022-30190-follina

[8] https://isc.sans.edu/diary/rss/28728

[9] https://darktrace.com/blog/qakbot-resurgence-evolving-along-with-the-emerging-threat-landscape

[10] https://www.trustwave.com/en-us/resources/blogs/spiderlabs-blog/trojanized-onenote-document-leads-to-formbook-malware/

[11] https://www.proofpoint.com/uk/blog/threat-insight/onenote-documents-increasingly-used-to-deliver-malware

[12] https://www.malwarebytes.com/blog/threat-intelligence/2023/03/emotet-onenote

[13] https://blog.cyble.com/2023/02/01/qakbots-evolution-continues-with-new-strategies/

[14] https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2023/02/06/qakbot-onenote-attacks/

[15] https://isc.sans.edu/diary/rss/29210

[16] https://unit42.paloaltonetworks.com/feb-wireshark-quiz-answers/

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E-Mail

Looking Beyond Secure Email Gateways with the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/Email

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09
Apr 2024

Organizations Should Demand More from their Email Security

In response to a more intricate threat landscape, organizations should view email security as a critical component of their defense-in-depth strategy, rather than defending the inbox alone with a traditional Secure Email Gateway (SEG). Organizations need more than a traditional gateway – that doubles, instead of replaces, the capabilities provided by native security vendor – and require an equally granular degree of analysis across all messaging, including inbound, outbound, and lateral mail, plus Teams messages.  

Darktrace/Email is the industry’s most advanced cloud email security, powered by Self-Learning AI. It combines AI techniques to exceed the accuracy and efficiency of leading security solutions, and is the only security built to elevate, not duplicate, native email security.  

With its largest update ever, Darktrace/Email introduces the following innovations, finally allowing security teams to look beyond secure email gateways with autonomous AI:

  • AI-augmented data loss prevention to stop the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats
  • an easy way to deploy DMARC quickly with AI
  • major enhancements to streamline SOC workflows and increase the detection of sophisticated phishing links
  • expansion of Darktrace’s leading AI prevention to lateral mail, account compromise and Microsoft Teams

What’s New with Darktrace/Email  

Data Loss Prevention  

Block the entire spectrum of outbound mail threats with advanced data loss prevention that builds on tags in native email to stop unknown, accidental, and malicious data loss

Darktrace understands normal at individual user, group and organization level with a proven AI that detects abnormal user behavior and dynamic content changes. Using this understanding, Darktrace/Email actions outbound emails to stop unknown, accidental and malicious data loss.  

Traditional DLP solutions only take into account classified data, which relies on the manual input of labelling each data piece, or creating rules to catch pattern matches that try to stop data of certain types leaving the organization. But in today’s world of constantly changing data, regular expression and fingerprinting detection are no longer enough.

  • Human error – Because it understands normal for every user, Darktrace/Email can recognize cases of misdirected emails. Even if the data is correctly labelled or insensitive, Darktrace recognizes when the context in which it is being sent could be a case of data loss and warns the user.  
  • Unclassified data – Whereas traditional DLP solutions can only take action on classified data, Darktrace analyzes the range of data that is either pending labels or can’t be labeled with typical capabilities due to its understanding of the content and context of every email.  
  • Insider threat – If a malicious actor has compromised an account, data exfiltration may still be attempted on encrypted, intellectual property, or other forms of unlabelled data to avoid detection. Darktrace analyses user behaviour to catch cases of unusual data exfiltration from individual accounts.

And classification efforts already in place aren’t wasted – Darktrace/Email extends Microsoft Purview policies and sensitivity labels to avoid duplicate workflows for the security team, combining the best of both approaches to ensure organizations maintain control and visibility over their data.

End User and Security Workflows

Achieve more than 60% improvement in the quality of end-user phishing reports and detection of sophisticated malicious weblinks1

Darktrace/Email improves end-user reporting from the ground up to save security team resource. Employees will always be on the front line of email security – while other solutions assume that end-user reporting is automatically of poor quality, Darktrace prioritizes improving users’ security awareness to increase the quality of end-user reporting from day one.  

Users are empowered to assess and report suspicious activity with contextual banners and Cyber AI Analyst generated narratives for potentially suspicious emails, resulting in 60% fewer benign emails reported.  

Out of the higher-quality emails that end up being reported, the next step is to reduce the amount of emails that reach the SOC. Darktrace/Email’s Mailbox Security Assistant automates their triage with secondary analysis combining additional behavioral signals – using x20 more metrics than previously – with advanced link analysis to detect 70% more sophisticated malicious phishing links.2 This directly alleviates the burden of manual triage for security analysts.

For the emails that are received by the SOC, Darktrace/Email uses automation to reduce time spent investigating per incident. With live inbox view, security teams gain access to a centralized platform that combines intuitive search capabilities, Cyber AI Analyst reports, and mobile application access. Analysts can take remediation actions from within Darktrace/Email, eliminating console hopping and accelerating incident response.

Darktrace takes a user-focused and business-centric approach to email security, in contrast to the attack-centric rules and signatures approach of secure email gateways

Microsoft Teams

Detect threats within your Teams environment such as account compromise, phishing, malware and data loss

Around 83% of Fortune 500 companies rely on Microsoft Office products and services, particularly Teams and SharePoint.3

Darktrace now leverages the same behavioral AI techniques for Microsoft customers across 365 and Teams, allowing organizations to detect threats and signals of account compromise within their Teams environment including social engineering, malware and data loss.  

The primary use case for Microsoft Teams protection is as a potential entry vector. While messaging has traditionally been internal only, as organizations open up it is becoming an entry vector which needs to be treated with the same level of caution as email. That’s why we’re bringing our proven AI approach to Microsoft Teams, that understands the user behind the message.  

Anomalous messaging behavior is also a highly relevant indicator of whether a user has been compromised. Unlike other solutions that analyze Microsoft Teams content which focus on payloads, Darktrace goes beyond basic link and sandbox analysis and looks at actual user behavior from both a content and context perspective. This linguistic understanding isn’t bound by the requirement to match a signature to a malicious payload, rather it looks at the context in which the message has been delivered. From this analysis, Darktrace can spot the early symptoms of account compromise such as early-stage social engineering before a payload is delivered.

Lateral Mail Analysis

Detect and respond to internal mailflow with multi-layered AI to prevent account takeover, lateral phishing and data leaks

The industry’s most robust account takeover protection now prevents lateral mail account compromise. Darktrace has always looked at internal mail to inform inbound and outbound decisions, but will now elevate suspicious lateral mail behaviour using the same AI techniques for inbound, outbound and Teams analysis.

Darktrace integrates signals from across the entire mailflow and communication patterns to determine symptoms of account compromise, now including lateral mailflow

Unlike other solutions which only analyze payloads, Darktrace analyzes a whole range of signals to catch lateral movement before a payload is delivered. Contributing yet another layer to the AI behavioral profile for each user, security teams can now use signals from lateral mail to spot the early symptoms of account takeover and take autonomous actions to prevent further compromise.

DMARC

Gain in-depth visibility and control of 3rd parties using your domain with an industry-first AI-assisted DMARC

Darktrace has created the easiest path to brand protection and compliance with the new Darktrace/DMARC. This new capability continuously stops spoofing and phishing from the enterprise domain, while automatically enhancing email security and reducing the attack surface.

Darktrace/DMARC helps to upskill businesses by providing step by step guidance and automated record suggestions provide a clear, efficient road to enforcement. It allows organizations to quickly achieve compliance with requirements from Google, Yahoo, and others, to ensure that their emails are reaching mailboxes.  

Meanwhile, Darktrace/DMARC helps to reduce the overall attack surface by providing visibility over shadow-IT and third-party vendors sending on behalf of an organization’s brand, while informing recipients when emails from their domains are sent from un-authenticated DMARC source.

Darktrace/DMARC integrates with the wider Darktrace product platform, sharing insights to help further secure your business across Email Attack Path and Attack Surface management.

Schlussfolgerung

To learn more about the new innovations to Darktrace/Email download the solution brief here.

All of the new updates to Darktrace/Email sit within the new Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform, creating a feedback loop between email security and the rest of the digital estate for better protection. Click to read more about the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform or to hear about the latest innovations to Darktrace/OT, the most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for critical infrastructures.  

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.

References

[1] Internal Darktrace Research

[2] Internal Darktrace Research

[3] Essential Microsoft Office Statistics in 2024

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About the author
Carlos Gray
Product Manager

Blog

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Managing Risk Beyond CVE Scores With the Latest Innovations to Darktrace/OT

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09
Apr 2024

Identifying Cyber Risk in Industrial Organizations

Compromised OT devices in ICS and SCADA environments pose significant physical risks, even endangering lives. However, identifying CVEs in the multitude of complex OT devices is labor-intensive and time-consuming, draining valuable resources.

Even after identifying a vulnerability, implementing a patch presents its own challenges limited maintenance windows and the need for uninterrupted operations strain IT and OT teams often leading organizations to prioritize availability over security leading vulnerabilities remaining unresolved for over 5 years on average. (1)

Darktrace’s New Innovation

Darktrace is an industry leader in cybersecurity with 10+ years of experience securing OT environments where we take a fundamentally different approach using Self-Learning AI to enhance threat detection and response.

Continuing to combat the expanding threat landscape, Darktrace is excited to announce new capabilities that enable a contextualized and proactive approach to managing cyber risk at industrial organizations.

Today we launch an innovation to our OT Cybersecurity solution, Darktrace/OT, that will add a layer of proactivity, enabling a comprehensive approach to risk management. This industry leading innovation for Darktrace/OT moves beyond CVE scores to redefine vulnerability management for critical infrastructure, tackling the full breadth of risks not limited by traditional controls.  

Darktrace/OT is the only OT security solution with comprehensive Risk Management which includes:

  • Contextualized risk analysis unique to your organization
  • The most realistic evaluation and prioritization of OT risk
  • Effectively mitigate risk across your OT infrastructure, with and without patching.
  • The only OT security solution that evaluates your defenses against Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) Groups.

The most comprehensive prevention, detection, and response solution purpose built for Critical Infrastructures

Darktrace’s Self-Learning AI technology is a cutting-edge innovation that implements real time prevention, detection, response, and recovery for operational technologies and enables a fundamental shift from the traditional approach to cyber defense by learning a ‘pattern of life’ for every network, device, and user.  

Rather than relying on knowledge of past attacks, AI technology learns what is ‘normal’ for its environment, discovering previously unknown threats by detecting subtle shifts in behavior. Through identifying these unexpected anomalies, security teams can investigate novel attacks, discover blind spots, have live time visibility across all their physical and digital assets, and reduce time to detect, respond to, and triage security events.  

  • Achieve greater visibility of OT and IT devices across all levels of the Purdue Model.
  • The industry's only OT security to scale threat detection and response, with a 92% time saving from triage to recovery.  
  • The only OT focused security solution to provide bespoke Risk Management.

To learn more about how Darktrace/OT approaches unique use cases for industrial organizations visit the Darktrace/OT Webpage or join us LIVE at a city near you.

Read more below to discover how new innovations to Darktrace/OT are bringing a new, contextualized approach to Risk Management for Industrial organizations.

For more information on the entire Darktrace/OT Solution read our solution brief here.

Darktrace/OT and New Risk Management

Risk Identification

Leveraging the visibility of Darktrace/OT which identifies individual systems throughout the Purdue Model and the relationship between them, Darktrace/OT identifies high-risk CVEs and presents potential attack routes that go beyond techniques requiring a known exploit, such as misuse of legitimate services. Each attack path will have a mathematical evaluation of difficulty and impact from initial access to the high value objectives.  

Together this gives comprehensive coverage over your real and potential risks from both an attacker and known vulnerability perspectives. OT attack paths as seen here even leverage insights between the industrial and corporate communications to reveal ways threat actors may take advantage of IT-OT convergence. This revelation of imperceptible risks fills gaps in traditional risk analysis like remote access and insider threats.

Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 1: Darktrace/OT visualizing the most critical attack paths at an organization
Figure 2: A specific Attack Path identified by Darktrace/OT

Risk Prioritization

Darktrace/OT prioritizes remediations and mitigations based on difficulty and damage to your unique organization, using the established Attack Paths.

We ascertain the priorities that apply to your organization beyond pure theoretical damage answering questions like:

  • How difficult is a particular vulnerability to exploit considering the steps an attacker would require to reach it?
  • And, how significant would the impact be if it was exploited within this particular network?

This expanded approach to risk prioritization has a much more comprehensive evaluation of your organization's unique risk than has ever been possible before. Traditional approaches of ranking only known vulnerabilities with isolated scores using CVSS and exploitability metrics, often leaves gaps in IT-OT risks and is blind to legitimate service exploitation.

Figure 3: Darktrace/OT leverages its contextual understand of the organization’s network to prioritize remediation that will have the positive impact on the risk score

Darktrace provides mitigation strategies associated with each identified risk and the relevant impact it has on your overall risk posture, across all MITRE ATT&CK techniques.

What sets Darktrace apart is our ability to contextualize these mitigations within the broader business. When patching vulnerabilities directly isn’t possible, Darktrace identifies alternative actions that harden attack paths leading to critical assets. Hardening the surrounding attack path increases the difficulty and therefore reduces the likelihood and impact of a breach.

That means unpatched vulnerabilities and vulnerable devices aren’t left unprotected. This also has an added bonus, those hardening techniques work for all devices in that network segment, so apply one change, secure many.

Figure 4: Darktrace prioritizes mitigation reducing accessibility of vulnerability and the overall risk score when patches aren’t available

Communicate Board Level Risk with APT Threat Mapping

Darktrace/OT bridges theory and practice as the only security solution that maps MITRE techniques, frequently used by APT Groups, onto AI-assessed critical Attack Paths. This unique solution provides unparalleled insights including sector and location intelligence, possible operating platforms, common techniques, exploited CVEs, and the number of potential devices affected in your environment, supporting holistic risk assessment and proactive defense measures.

Ultimately, this becomes a power dashboard to communicate board level risk, using both metric based evidence and industry standard threat mapping.

Schlussfolgerung

Darktrace/OT is part of the Darktrace ActiveAI Security Platform a native, holistic, AI-driven platform built on over ten years of AI research. It helps security teams shift to more a productive mode, finding the known and the unknown attacks and transforming the SOC with the various Darktrace products to drive efficiency gains. It does this across the whole incident lifecycle to lower risk, reduce time spent on active incidents, and drive return on investment.

Discover more about Darktrace's ever-strengthening platform with the upcoming changes coming to our Darktrace/Email product and other launch day blogs.

Join Darktrace LIVE half-day event to understand the reality versus the hype surrounding AI and how to achieve cyber resilience.

Learn about the intersection of cyber and AI by downloading the State of AI Cyber Security 2024 report to discover global findings that may surprise you, insights from security leaders, and recommendations for addressing today’s top challenges that you may face, too.  

References

1. https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/313646831/Catch_Me_if_You_Can.pdf

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About the author
Mitchell Bezzina
VP, Product and Solutions Marketing
Our ai. Your data.

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